Monday, April 13, 2009

Coming In and Out of BATANES - Day 3 - Enduring Helen


So far, I had spent such an amazing tour of nearly half of the island of Batan and I know I had so much to tell everyone already.

Electricity didn't went out last night. I later learned that electricity on the island was equally distributed among the barangays and brownout was scheduled on a regular interval because one of the three power generators was under repair (maintenance was being conducted by DPWH for over a year already, according to local Ivatans).

This morning, watching the news and the updates for typhoon Helen, it was Signal No. 2 in Basco, Cagayan and the rest of Northern Luzon. All flights to and from Basco were cancelled! I checked the weather outside from my window and, to my surprise, it was sunny! Huh! Is this what it was like in Batanes on a typhoon signal no. 2? I already loved it here!
Diura Fishing Village

My tour guide wasn't available to take me to the rest of southern and middle parts of Batan but he managed to get a reliever, who was there to pick me up at 9:00 am.
Our first stop, Mahatao and Diura fishing village. To get here, you must hike for about 30 minutes from the main road to get to the site. The natives in this part of Batanes have their own architectural style - different from the most popular stone houses. Here, their house were made of cogon, divided into two separate sections, the dining and living areas. Original inhabitants in this village used to have stone houses but most of them never stood that long and was destroyed by tsunami. Left along the trail were remains of the old stone houses where the original Ivatans first lived.
Mahatao Fountain of Youth
As we hiked further, I was able to take a dip in what they called the "Spring of Youth". According to an old folk tale, there came a man and a woman from nowhere seeking help for their very sick child. No one was able to help and cure the child until they came upon this spring, took a few sip, then miraculously their child was healed. The story was astonishing I took some water to drink and it tasted so good - well, generally the water here in Batanes is safe to drink.

Diura Fishing Village
We have reached the end of the trail and going back to Diura I decided to take a walk down the rocky shore where corals and other sea creatures are all visible. Quite amazing!


It was almost noon and there was a need for us to rush to the next stop - the Racuh-A-Payaman or what is famously known as Marlboro Country. It rained so hard as we neared the site but alas, it stopped as we entered the most photographed place in Batanes. Truly, I felt I was somewhere not in the Philippines. The wind felt so cool as it brushed my skin. The picturesque landscape and sea waves below - seemed like I was looking at a postcard though it was real.

I still managed to take some photos and videos of this part of Batan Island, enjoyed the fresh sight and breathe the smooth cool air. But the rain clouds were fast approaching that we needed to go back to Basco. Helen, the thyphoon, was cool enough to let me enjoy Batanes that she held her might for a while til that evening - when she landed Batanes and her rage were felt all over the island.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coming In and Out of BATANES - Day 1 and 2

As of the time of this writing, there are no available flights to take you to Basco, Batanes. Luckily, I was able to purchase a round-trip promo ticket via Asian Spirit (now ZestAir) for travel to July last year. Frequency of flights then was MWF.

The time of my Batanes visit was quite odd. It was the season when most thypoons hit Northern Luzon - particularly Batanes. This will be just one those off-the-beaten-track journey I have to endure and enjoy.

Knowing the odds, I scheduled my arrival on a Monday and departure on Friday.  This is more than enough to visit Batan and Sabtang islands.

Prior to my departure, I arranged my accomodation and tour package online via Batanes Cultural Travel Agency. Package includes airport transfer, accomodation, tour vehicle (tricycle), boat rides to and from Sabtang, and municipal permits and fees. Total cost was P6,000 - normal budget for a solo traveler on a strict budget like me.


I arrived in Basco before noon. The weather was fine - sunny and windy. The air was cool and fresh. And the valleys are in deep greens. What a sight to behold! I had lunch in Batanes Seaside Resort where I was also booked for P400/night non-aircon (P800/night for aircon room). I started my tour of the northern part of Batan Island. Here you will see the Basco marker, Radar Tukon (Pagasa weather station), Fundacion Pacita, Idjang (stone fortress up the hill), Valugan beach, Naidi Rolling Hills with nice view of Mt. Iraya, Basco Lighthouse, Basco Cathedral and plaza. Price of the tour starts at P1,600 and can be arranged through your hotel.

My tour finished right after sundown. Back in the hotel, electricity went off and the whole place turned dark and silent except for the relaxing sound of the waves and slashing coconut leaves swaying rapidly with the wind.

Basco welcomes you to Batanes
Radar Tukon
Idjang Hills
Fundacion Pacita
Fundacion Pacita
Valugan Boulder Beach
Naidi Hills
Naidi Hills
Naidi Hills
Naidi Hills
Naidi Hills
Basco Lighthouse
Basco Lighthouse
Sto. Domingo Church - Basco Cathedral


I can see heavy rain clouds coming from the west that morning and I knew it will reach the island in a couple of hours. This time, I was scheduled on a southern tour of Batan. We started the tour by dropping by the Mahatao view deck. It rained so hard and we waited until the rain was gone. Off on the road to Mahatao Town proper, we managed to drop by the white beach with natural stone curvings and majestic twin hills view, and the San Carlos Borromeo Church. I was so astonished by the "BLOW UR HORN" marker at the side of the road I had to take picture while sitting on top of the marker.
Mahatao View Deck

Mahatao shore below the viewdeck

San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao

Mahatao beaches

Mahatao beaches

Twin peak in Mahatao

Blow Ur Horn road signs

Next stop, the town of Ivana - the point nearest to Sabtang. People going to Sabtang take the boat from Ivana Port. Here is where the very famous Honesty Store is located. Also you will find the House of Dakay (now a World Heritage Site), the oldest standing Ivatan house.
Ivana Rock Formations

House of Dakay

San Jose Church - Ivana

Honesty Coffee Shope

Moving on to the next town, Uyugan, where hills and seascape are sights to behold. Truly a work of wonder, the Scotland of the Philippines really got what it takes to be called as such, and even more.

Native Ivatan house in Uyugsn

View from the cliff - Uyugan

View from the cliff - Uyugan

View from the cliff - Uyugan

Song-song (ghost town) - Uyugan

Me wearing a Vakul

The last stop of our tour is the Itbud town. Here is where you will find the old Dekey-a-Kanayan Loran Station - an old weather and radar station built by the Americans during WWII. And the relaxing view of the sea and white beach in Imnajbu, the last stop for all forms of transportation here in Batanes. Beyond Imnajbu, left is a trail for farmers to walk up and down the hill to market their goods. Quiet noticeably is the serene atmosphere in this small barangay inhabited by around 300 people only. The church, schools, and even the barangay hall were open - yet no one was around!

Dekey-a-Kanayan = Itbud

Cliffs - Itbud
Empty with people -  Itbud Town

The past two days were blessed with very good weather, thus very fulfilling. But that second night I heard from the news that typhoon Helen, with strong winds reaching more than 100kph, was headed directly towards Basco and will reach the island the following morning. Perfect timing! Next - Day 3.

My Ultimate Experience in BATANES

Everything you need to know about Batanes:

- It is the smallest province in the Philippines in terms of size and population
- It's a misconception that Batanes is constantly being battered by typhoon. It's just the reference point of any typhoon that enters the PAR.
- Batanes is the only place in the Philippines known to have all four seasons - spring, summer, fall, and of course, winter! Without the snow, the closest you can get is Batanes, where temperature dips to as low as 7˚C from November to January.
- Batanes has no real nightlife or the popular fastfood or  big mall chains.
- People on the streets smile at each other even they do not know each other personally.
- No dust and pollution, the air you breath is fresh. Really fresh!
- The mountains, hills and valleys are coloured green all year round. And the surrounding seas are in its nature given color.
- Everybody can drink directly from the faucet without fear of contracting amoebiasis or diarrhea.
- Stone houses are refreshing sight and amaze visitors with their unique designs. Doors are left open while the owners are out to work.
- The airport is an amusement center. A lot of people go to the airport, like well-wishers, even though they are not waiting for anyone, like relatives, in particular.
- Coconut crabs, kuyabs and valichits (local migratory birds only found in Batanes) are abundant during certain seasons of the year.
- No traffic, no squatters, no beggars, no thieves - you feel confident that somebody who found your lost key will bring it back to you or to the nearest police or radio station.
- On a clear night sky, the brilliance of the moon and the stars do not compete with commercial lights.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Given a chance to be away for at least 3 consecutive holidays from work, rest assured I would spend my free time "AWAY" from the crowded and polluted Metro Manila.

This time I decided to traverse Western Visayas to Central Visayas. Looking at my map, Silay City by plane would be an excellent start. It is where the new Silay-Bacolod Airport is located and would be my first time to take a look inside this airport.


I took the earliest flight to Bacolod via PAL. Arrived there after an hour, and was so amazed the new Silay-Bacolod Airport is located in the middle of a vast sugar cane plantation. From the airport, a van would take you to the city proper for P50.00.

What to do in Silay City at 8:00 am? A walk along Rizal Avenue will lead you to their heritage buildings and ancestral houses, the most famous of which is the Balay Negrense. The three hour tour was a great learning experience. Silay City was the "Paris of the Philippines" before WWII. By looking at the edifices and facades of these old structures, I wondered about how this city could have looked like in those era? I believe this is where the original "Burgis" people came from.

My next stop is Bacolod City - the capital of Negros Occidental. Just a little less than an hour to reach by jeepney from Silay City. A visit to the Tourism Office helped me locate a nice hotel to stay, bathe, eat, and entertain for only ONE day and night.

Of course, my visit to Bacolod won't be complete without taking photos of the plaza and the gazebo, the City Hall, the Provincial Capitol, and other famous landmarks like SM City Bacolod(? - ha ha ha), and the Manukan Country.


From Bacolod was a long 8-hour trip by bus to Dumaguete City - the capital city of Negros Oriental. I missed the 8:00 am AIRCON bus but I thought I would be more comfortable to take the 9:00 am DELUXE bus instead (sounds better than AIRCON bus, isn't it?). To my surprise, DELUXE means ORDINARY - NO AIRCON! Ok, so I expect people of the ordinary kind to be seated beside me, maybe smoking along the way or sweating, or minding the rooster - yes! they bring along their pets inside the bus! Didn't wanted to miss anything, took this bus with an expectation of exhausting and strenuous 8-hour journey.

I arrived in Dumaguete City a little past five pm, drained, smelly, perspiring! Walked past Silliman University, I immediately located the nearest hotel from the Rizal Boulevard, checked-in and at last - the much needed shower! Took at least 2 hours of sleep. It was one hell of a trip!

That night in Dumaguete I was able to taste the famous 'tempura' frying along Rizal Boulevard. It was SOOO good I lost count of how much I have consumed. A piece costs P3.00. That made it even more delicious. ha ha ha. Of course my stay here won't be complete without exploring the rest of the boulevard and its nightlife activities.


Got up early to take the 6:00 am ferry to Siquijor - the island known for existence of withcraft technology - so to speak. Even before I went there I was able to contact and arrange a tour guide - Ceasar.

It only took me 45 minutes to reach Siquijor via fastcraft (OceanJet). Ceasar, my tour guide easily recognized me and approached me as I walk past many well-wishers in the port and immediately went with the tour riding a tricycle. That 6-hour guided tour made me realize how awesome the island of Siquijor is. Noticeably quiet and serene, there were only a few jeepneys and buses plying in the main road. The island is evidently safe with military presence in every tourist locations. The air is cool even on a bright sunny day, and the view - picturesque and spectacular. Mysterious as the island may seem, one will undoubtedly get hypnotized as its secrets unfold right before your very eyes - the white sand beaches, caves, waterfalls and virgin forests.

From the Port of Siquijor, I took the 4:00 pm ferry back to Dumaguete. Along the way I was thinking if I would go to Tagbilaran and from there take the last available flight back to Manila - quite feasible. Excitedly, I went directly to the ticketing office to buy ticket to Tagbilaran City - in Bohol. Probably everyone would think I am nuts for what I did! Who would ever think of a travel agenda like that and who else could possibly do that besides me anyway?

That night in Dumaguete, I fell asleep so soundedly!


I bought a 6:00 am ticket on a fastcraft to Tagbiliran - the capital city of Bohol. From Dumaguete port, I called two good Boholano friends of mine, whom I haven't seen for about a couple of years. Arriving in Tagbilaran port after an hour and a half, I saw them waiting with their habal-habal. Not wanting to waste any of our time, we immediately went to nearby coffee shop at the city central for the much awaited chat. They even took me with them around the city - which I am already familiar with. But still, Tagbiliran remains to be one of the best places to go for a vacation.

We had lunch and still managed to share some bottles of beer before my flight at 4:00 pm back to Manila. Once again, another travel accomplishment.


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